Dunn the One in Indiana
The Nashville, Tenn., native has spent the last four seasons as an assistant with the Fever, and she was named the new head coach on Dec. 12. WNBA.com caught up with Dunn to discuss her new role in Indiana, her thoughts on the return of Tamika Catchings and her plans for the coming season.
Q. First of all, congratulations on a solid season in 2007 and on your new position. What were your immediate thoughts when it was announced that Brian Winters would not be returning in 2008, especially having spent four years as his assistant in Indiana?
A. "I was a little surprised, to be honest. I don't know all of the details about what took place, but I had a wonderful experience working with Brian for four years. It was a great experience for me.
"I never thought, at least at the outset, 'Wow, now this is my job for the taking!' No, nothing like that. I was just curious about which direction in which the franchise was going to go. Sure, I was evaluating how his leaving might affect me you know, would I be able to stay on with the Fever or would I need to look for jobs with other teams? That was my main concern at the time."
Q. You spent three seasons as the head coach in Seattle from 2000-02. How do you think the league compares now to the last time you were a head coach?
A. "Obviously the level of play has improved a lot. The level of talent seven years later shows how much the game has grown from the high school and college level all the way up to the pros. It seems like every year, the players coming out of college into the draft are bigger, stronger, faster and more skilled. It's no surprise, but the quality of play continues to go up as each team finds those more talented players."
Q. How will this head coaching situation in Indiana be different from your tenure with the Storm?
A. "This is an entirely different situation. When I took the job in Seattle, the job was to build their expansion franchise from scratch. There was no name, no logo, no players, nothing. The emphasis there was building something from scratch.
"The emphasis here in Indiana will be to build on the success that we've had in the past three years. Build on that success and hopefully take it to the next step where we're challenging for the Eastern Conference title and the WNBA championship. It's a different kind of challenge for me altogether."
Q. You're taking over a team with a lot of veteran talent that went to the Eastern Conference Finals last year. How will you approach the coming season? How vital is it to keep that momentum going and to build on it?
A. "That's one of our key goals: to build on the success we've seen here in the past few seasons. Build on the success and excitement that was created when we beat Connecticut last year in the playoffs. That kind of game here in Indianapolis is why I love this league so much: we were down, but we came back and won the game against one of our biggest rivals. We have a ton of respect for Connecticut and for what they've done in the past, so that was a big win for our franchise. We want to build on that excitement, build on that success and do it again and go even further."
Q. You have lots of questions this offseason and heading into 2008 including several players who are free agents. How will you approach the next few months from a personnel perspective?
A. "We're really going to have to focus in on our core players. We need to ask who those players are and whether or not it makes sense to continue building the team around those players. Then we'll have to come up with a plan to get them back on board. But until the CBA and all of those related issues are resolved, we can only speculate as to what we'll do next."
Q. What about Tamika Catchings in particular? She suffered a serious injury in the playoffs last year and isn't yet back out on the court. How much does her healthy return mean to the success of this team?
A. "The good news is that Tamika's surgery went well. She has a tremendous work ethic and she's on schedule and getting along well in her rehab. We know she's going to do everything in her power to get back to full strength.
"But we also know there's a possibility, as much as we don't want to think about it, that she might not be 100 percent by the start of the season. We have to approach the '08 season with a plan in place for how to deal with that possibility that she's not in the lineup at the start. But that's an opportunity for some of our other players, maybe players who haven't gotten a shot at serious playing time, to step up.
"But her return means a lot. Tamika is a key part of this franchise. She's been an integral part of our success over the past three years and we need her to be back and healthy and ready to help us move forward and achieve higher goals like winning the East. But we also know she's coming back from a serious leg injury, so we don't want to rush her. We have to be patient. The good news is that she will be back. We're just not sure when.
"Regardless of when she comes back, we're not going to be changing the system up too seriously. We'll probably make more offensive changes than defensive ones, but Tamika will feel comfortable coming back when she can because it won't be a brand new system for her."
Q. Which players currently on the roster do you feel will be in a solid position to step up and take on more responsibility on the court in 2008? Who might benefit from increased playing time?
A. "I don't think there's any doubt that Tan White will be a key player for us on the perimeter. She can play the 2 or the 3 and can step in and pick up some of the load while Tamika's recovering.
"We also have to continue to get some great play out of Tamika Whitmore, Tammy Sutton-Brown, Ebony Hoffman, Sheri Sam players like that who have, at times, been role players, but who now have to assert themselves a little bit more. And I think they can. Late last year, we had to adjust for a couple of weeks when Tamika was hurt, but we were able to adapt and still finished second in the East. And that's a tribute to the other players. I give them all a lot of credit for stepping it up and getting it done."
Q. Is there a certain position or aspect of the game in which you feel an immediate need to improve?
A. "I don't think there's any doubt that we want to score more points. If you look at the statistics league wide, if you rank all the data, we're in the top three in almost every defensive category. But as far as points scored, we've struggled a bit. So that's a key area we're hoping to improve on. We averaged around 72 points a game last year, and we'd really like to get that up to around 79-80. Let's get seven or eight more points a game. That's gonna be a real focus for us in training camp. Score more points, win more games! That's my motto!"
Q. Finally, what are your goals for the coming season? Is it all based on getting past the Shock and reaching the WNBA Finals? Or is a WNBA title the make-or-break point for this franchise?
A. "Initially our goal will be to build on the success we've had in the past few years to build on the 21 wins we've gotten in each of the last three seasons. And then, from there, I want us to do what we need to do to be legitimate contenders for the Eastern Conference championship. We don't just want to get into the playoffs. We really want to win the East. We want home-court advantage throughout the playoffs. Then, our next goal is to win a WNBA championship.
"That's what I'm excited about in taking over with this team. I think it's realistic for us to talk about those types of goals. We want to build on our success, we want to score more points, we want to win more games, we want to win the East and we want to be champions. And we're going to put a plan together to accomplish those goals.
"Off the court, we'll continue to give back to the community. We want to be role models and connect more with our fans. That's what we're going to try to do, and we're gonna give it our all to make it happen."